Maxey - Thomas Debate
An Examination of a Proposition
Relating to Divorce and Remarriage

Friday, January 12, 2001

A Response by Ron Thomas
To Maxey's Comments on Porneia

Al's request to me is from the following:

What I mean when I use the word "fornication" is exactly how the word is used in its natural or ordinary sense. With respect to Scripture note the following on the word "fornication": "In Scripture this word occurs more frequently in its symbolical than in its ordinary sense" (Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, vol. 3, p. 626, Baker, reprint 1969). What is worth noting in this quote is that the word has an "ordinary sense." What is that ordinary sense? Al alludes to the fact that the word porneia has a wide range of meanings. This is how Al stated it: "Thus, when we speak of 'fornication' (porneia) in our proposition, we are actually utilizing a biblical term with an extremely wide range of meaning and application."

If you will look in the 1st post that I made you'll note that the word is applied in two ways: metaphorically or literally. When used in a metaphorical way it is obvious the literal definition won't work. But even when it is used in a metaphorical way there is a similar idea of forsaking (or "going against" or "out on") the 1st attachment.

One of the rules of hermeneutics is to always understand a word in its literal sense unless the context demands otherwise. Milton Terry said, "To understand, therefore, the language of a speaker or writer, it is necessary, first of all, to know the meaning of his words" (Biblical Hermeneutics, p. 175, 1883). In this case it is to know the meaning of the word "fornication" (porneia) when Jesus used the word in Matt. 5:32 and 19:9.

Terry further states, "Some words have a variety of significance, and hence, whatever their primitive meaning, we are obliged to gather from the context, and from familiarity with the usage of the language, the particular sense which they bear in a given passage of Scripture. ..... Hence the importance of attending to what is commonly called the usus loquendi, or current usage of words as employed by a particular writer, or prevalent in a particular age" (Terry, p. 181). The simplest way to do this is to allow the context to set the parameters of the word. Since Jesus used "fornication" and "adultery" in the same reading it is clear that something sexual (or physical) is in view. What in the context would say otherwise?

Al is not unfamiliar with this at all. No doubt he applies this rule in his own study, but if he tries to apply some sort of metaphorical meaning to Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 to the word fornication he ...., well, he has forgotten to apply the rule of hermeneutics as he should. No doubt Al will vigorously defend his approach in hermeneutics here in 5:32 and 19:9. We will wait and see what he has to say.

Al sited the following: "In the early period, especially in nomadic life, it was customary for a young girl to be married in her own tribe. Sometimes young men might break the custom and marry girls from a neighboring tribe." Thus, this word "is used for the woman whose husband does not belong to her tribe." From this, if I'm understanding Al correctly, a conclusion is suggested that porneia could be understood in ways other than "sexual" activity. He as much as said this when he said the word "fornication" in Matthew 5:32 & 19:9 is not to be limited to sexual activity. "There is even the distinct possibility that actions and attitudes other than sexual indiscretion may be included in this general term."

Well, on page 584, from which Al gets these quotes (except for the immediately preceding quote), is the discussion of the Hebrew word(s) which is often translated in a way that corresponds to the Greek porneia. In this context it is associated with sexual (physical) contact between two people. Further, the article tells how the word is used in particular contexts of the Old Testament. I grant that there are "non-sexual" contexts in which the Hebrew word (translated porneia in the LXX) is found. But, the point of the paragraph is not to give some other meaning of the word, but an application or the general idea of unfaithfulness. But, when the idea of unfaithfulness is used it is clear from the context that sexual (or physical) contact is not in view and neither could be. But the key to this is the context.

One item, from Kittel's, worth noting: on page 592 (volume 6) there is a discussion of the word porneia in the context of Matthew 5 and 19 (pp. 591-592). In this discussion the following statement is made: "In both verses porneia refers to extra-marital intercourse on the part of the wife." More will be said on this as we progress. Al's reference to Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament and its role in giving the meaning (or an understanding) of the word porneia (fornication) has not proved his point. As a matter of fact, of the nearly 17 pages devoted to the word group (in which a number of related words are considered), this monumental reference makes clear that the word is to be understood in its literal meaning unless the context says otherwise.

Al said: "Let me state my own position for the record. As stated in the above quotation from my book, I would hesitate to limit the meaning and usage of this term to only one of its many meanings and applications when there is no indication in the text itself that Jesus has done so. With no specific contextual direction in the matter, the principles of hermeneutics dictate that the general is to be preferred over the specific, limited and restrictive use."

Al continues: "Therefore, I personally would not exclude spiritual unfaithfulness, for example, as a valid interpretation and application of porneia. As is indicated in I Corinthians 7, this too can be the cause of marital breakdown, and it is at least possible our Lord had this in view here to some degree. To limit this word to a sexual application only, is in my view far too restrictive."

This is remarkable to me. This suggests that Jesus applies "double-talk" to what He is saying. Al said that the word "fornication" in Matt. 5:32 & 19:9 has more than one meaning. Since it has more than one meaning it's not possible for us to know which one to apply. I don't think Al believes for one moment that Jesus is using double-talk, but if I'm understanding him correctly that is exactly what he is implying.

Further, Al said there is no contextual direction in the matter. Well, if the word "fornication" and "adultery" are allowed to have their primary meaning, then Jesus certainly did give us direction. Note what Milton Terry said on this idea of context: "In connexion (sic) with the immediate context, the nature of the subject may also determine the usage of the word" (p. 183). Note what a different writer on hermeneutics said, "All words are to be understood in their literal sense, unless the evident meaning of the context forbids" (Hermeneutics, A Text-Book, D.R. Dungan, Gospel Light Publishing Company, p. 184, nd). He further elaborates on this by saying, "Figures are the exception, literal language the rule; hence we are not to regard anything as figurative until we feel compelled to do so by evident import of the passage." There is nothing in the context of Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 that would allow or justify the word "fornication" (porneia) to have something other than its literal meaning.

The spiritual, figurative, or metaphorical meaning will not fit in Matthew 5:32 or 19:9. Al's case on the meaning of the word in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 simply has not been born out by the evidence. I will deal with the passage in I Corinthians 7 when Al makes more of an argument on it.

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